Introduction: Secret Compartment Shoebox (with Pallet Wood Patchwork Hidden Latch)

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

This box was create to keep my valuable Carolina Boots safe. The main frame of the box is constructed from 3/4" plywood and then the outside of the box is covered in a large variety of pallet wood and a few pieces of walnut scrap. The left side of the box holds a sliding puzzle mechanism that locks the lid in place until you slide it to the perfect position. The sliding pieces also hide a small hole just big enough for the aglet on my boot laces, this is used to release a hidden latch on the inside of the box to reveal a secret drawer in the bottom that houses what else, but a bluetooth speaker and pallet wood shot glass!

Step 1: Materials & Tools


- 3/4" plywood (1/2 sheet)

- 1/4" plywood

- Wood glue

- Pallet wood slats

- Miscellaneous small screws

- Super glue

- Piano hinge

- Spring

- PVC sheet for latch mechanism

- Wireless speaker kit

- Kaizen foam

- Pallet wood shot glass

- Paste wax

- Waterlox tung oil finish

Tools (these are what I used for the build, but not all of these are needed to do the same!)

- ISOtunes bluetooth hearing protection

- Table saw

- Router table

- Keyhole router bit

- Router bits

- Random orbital sander

- Gluebot

- Band clamps

- Screw clamps

- Bar clamps

- Brad gun

- Drill/driver

- Jointing sled

- Pull saw

- X-Carve CNC (could also be done with a palm router)

- Rockler bench cookies

- Forstner bits

- Bandsaw

- Countersink drill bit set

- Chisels

Step 2: Cutting the Plywood to Size

The main frame of the box is half of a sheet of 3/4" plywood. It took a little more than half of this to make the box and drawer parts. Optimally I would have used 1/2" plywood, but the best material you can use is the material you have!

I cut down all of the sides of the box to size on the table saw. I first rip them down to height and then cut them to length using 45 degree miters at all of the ends. 3 sides of the box are full height and the front is a few inches shorter for the secret drawer to come later that is not so secret anymore.

All 4 sides get a dado in them to hold the bottom of the box. I do that on the table saw so I can get a tight fit on the plywood that is slightly under 1/2". Then I use a 1/2" dado bit in the router table to cut slots in the left and right side in the drawer compartment that will leave me options for a drawer slide later that I haven't quite figured out yet.

A small piece of 1/2" ply is cut to fit in the false bottom of the box and installed in the dado. I glue the joints and use a band clamp to pull everything tight, then brad nail the corners together. The brads are used because the surface of the plywood will be covered later, and the good side is on the inside of the box anyway.

Step 3: Assembling the Bottom and Drawer

The actual bottom of the box is yet another sheet of 3/4" plywood. This is simply attached with glue and clamping it to the bottom of the box with a bunch of screw clamps.

The cavity that is left in the bottom of the box is for the hidden drawer. I rip down a few more pieces of plywood and cut them to length to fit perfectly. The 4 sides of the drawer are mitered the same way and glued/brad nailed together.

Next the drawer front can be installed. The ends of this also act as a stop for the drawer so when you push it in, that holds it in place. Then I just have to test the fit... the air pressure alone slows this thing down. Perfect, just like me. ;)

Step 4: Covering the Box in the Pallet Pattern

Then the pallet wood joins into the project, it was inevitable guys. At least the pallets are coming apart pretty easy these days.

I plane the slats down smooth and to a consistent thickness using the rightfully named thickness planer. Then the edges are brought down straight using my jointing sled in the table saw. Then the last edge can't be ripped down straight using the regular fence on the table saw, and we have some nice usable lumber!

It takes a lot of back and forth from the table saw to the box, but I cut a bunch of different sized pieces and species to make a random patchwork pattern using the pallet wood. Some of the pieces run over the edge of the corner too in order to create a sort of box joint look along the corners. All of the pieces are simply glued into place with wood glue and precariously clamped in place where I have the ability to clamp.

All of the 4 sides are completely covered in the patchwork pattern except for a few pieces on one side that are left loose to move around as you'll see in a bit. The overhang on the edges is all brought down flush using a block plane on the edge grain and with a pull saw and a little sanding for the end grain.

Step 5: Making the Sliding Slat Mechanism

Now the 3 pieces that were left loose will be attached using keyhole slots and screws on the box so that they can slide along the groove that this creates. I mark them out while they are sitting in location on the box and then cut the groove using the keyhole router bit.

In order to determine the location for the screws that hold this piece on, I temporarily super glue a couple of sharp point screws in the holes and then move the piece into place and press it against the box to make a mark. This then allows me to install the actual screws in the perfect location. I use washer head screws for this to help them slide in the grooves on the pieces of wood. The slot is cut a little past where it needs to be to allow for the movement, but one side of the movement is locked perfectly so the piece slides into place flush with the rest of them. This took a whole lot of fidgeting to get working perfectly, but eventually it worked!

Step 6: Making the Lid (attempt 1)

For the lid of the box, I decided to use another piece of the 3/4" plywood and cut miters around the perimeter. This allowed me to create a miter joint at the sides and the front, leaving the back alone for the hinge. This also created perfect grain continuity so the grain ran from the top and down the side pieces.

Change of plans! After I got it on the box I really didn't like the look of it, something about the scale of the sides was too fat, and the blonde color compared to the exciting pattern of the rest of the box just wasn't what I was envisioning, so I scraped that and tried again!

Step 7: Making the Lid (attempt 2) and Installing the Latch

I decided to use another piece of plywood with a little more character along with some thinner pallet wood strips for the perimeter. My router table is used to cut a dado along the length of the edge banding pieces. Then I clamp these in place temporarily to test the look and I like it a lot better, but I keep from gluing them on for now because I just got a new idea up my sleeve for the plywood top!

Before gluing everything up I need to cut a couple of grooves in the back of the plywood panel and also a matching one on the top of the box. The first groove is along the edge of both pieces for the piano hinge that will hold them together. I cut half the thickness for each piece, or actually very slightly less than half because if you go over the box will be hinge bound and won't shut.

The plywood top is then screwed into place using the hinge and I clamp the edge banding back on to mark out the location of the latch screw that will be installed in the top.

This mark is used to install another one of the same washer head screws on the inside lip of the lid of the box. The screw is what locks the lid into place when it is shut and the loose side pieces are slid into the correct locations.

I use the keyhole router bit again to cut a groove for the latch, but this time is runs along the piece and out the side. This allows for the screws to pass through to open the top, but when the lid is closed and the piece is slid towards the back of the box, it latches it in place.

Step 8: Adding Detail to the Lid

With all of the moving pieces working as a team with each other, I can remove the edge banding again and cut the final groove in the top that I mentioned earlier. This one is a big guy though! I cut a groove that leaves just 1/8" of the plywood behind so that I can install another patchwork pattern on the underside of the lid. I cut smaller pieces this time to help the pattern show through, because this is going to be revealed by cutting lettering through the top of the lid of the box.

I spread glue in the groove and install all of the pieces in place. I then clamp across the pieces to hold them down while the glue dries, but clamps with straight blocks under them are clamped along both ends of the top too in order to make sure that the lid remains flat since I cut away so much material.

For the lettering, I set the lid up on my X-Carve CNC and set up the Carolina logo to cut centered in the top of the lid. This cut reveals that patchwork pattern from below that I glued in earlier. I like to call this "Pallet wood enhanced plywood"... because I can.

The full reveal shows the pattern underneath the Carolina logo. I was a little unsure with the idea initially but I'm thrilled with the look that I was able to generate using this new technique!

Step 9: Lid Glue-up

With the lettering reveal complete, I can finally install the edge banding for real by gluing and clamping it into place. And then once the glue dries I can install the lid back on the hinge.

Step 10: Adding the Bottom and Spring to the Drawer

Now back to that drawer that we all forgot about. While I was gluing it in I had to be super careful not to glue any of the pallet wood pieces in place on the actual box so that the drawer could still open. I somehow successfully did this and am able to pull out the drawer and remove the drawer front to finish the drawer box. I run the bottom perimeter around a rabeting bit in the router to create a recess for the bottom and I square the corners of that off with a chisel.

The bottom is just a piece of 1/4" plywood that I install into place with glue and some brad nails. Then I pick a location on the left side of the drawer to drill out a wide hole that will hold a spring. I use the forstner bit to drill about 2/3 of the way through the back.

This spring is what holds the drawer with pressure against the latch to keep it closed, but it also pops the drawer open when the latch is released. I use hot glue to hold it in place, but later I ended up gluing it into the back of the box instead so it's hidden away better.

I install the drawer into place and push it back to judge how much play in the spring that there is, but I need a little bit more space to allow it to compress fully. By pushing the drawer all the way back I get a mark, then I use a forstner bit to drill it out until the depth allows for the drawer to close fully.

Step 11: Installing the Latch Mechanism

A hole is drilled just a little larger than the aglet on the end of the boot laces. This is located behind one of the moving slats and is going to be used to release the drawer. It's not a real boot box if the boots aren't used to open the secret drawer! The location of the hole is then transferred over to the side of the drawer so that I know roughly where to install the latch.

I get a small piece of 1/8" thick wood and glue it in place just a hair away from the hole. This acts as a catch for the latch.

For a latch I decided to cut out a small piece of oak. Oak has a high modulus of elasticity so it's pretty springing and I'm hoping it will working in this application even though the clearance is pretty tight. I cut the piece on the bandsaw with a long arm on it and a tiny wedge on the bottom to allow for the end to spring in and out freely.

To get it to fit it's a matter of testing the fit over and over and over and sanding it down until the flapper is just short enough that it flips back out after it passes the catching blocking. I broke a few of these flappers and finally got one to work perfectly until it didn't and that one cracked too.

Oak wasn't going to work, so I swapped out the material for PVC instead. It's super springy and won't crack on me, not sure why I didn't use this initially other than the fact that it's orange, but that's more of bonus than it is an issue. I install the flapper in place with a screw and again test the fit and trim until it just barely catches when it shuts.

Step 12: Installing a Speaker... Because I Can

A secret drawer by itself is a little boring right? Let's install some dividers to help hold some more secrets including a wireless bluetooth speaker kit!

A couple more pieces of 3/4" plywood are cut perfectly to the depth of the inside of the drawer and then they are installed just with glue and clamps until that is dry. The large section is going to hold the speaker kit so I cut a groove around the perimeter and square it off much like I did for the bottom of the drawer.

The drawer front is installed back in place with screws since a couple of the screws are going to be hidden inside the speaker compartment. After that, the cover for the speaker compartment (1/4" plywood) is installed into place with some short wood screws. These screws both hold it in, but also add to the visual.

I drill a couple of holes in the piece of plywood with a fostner bit, the exact diameter of the components. One is the speaker, and the other is the control board and circuit. They get pushed into place with just a really tight friction fit and the wires clip in from one to the other.

Step 13: Adding Kaizen Foam & Final Sanding

For the small compartment in the back, I cut a tiny piece of kaizen foam for a little something special. This is pushed down into place and is also simply held with a friction fit.

I use a long nose marker them to mark out the perimeter of the notorious Carolina pallet wood shot glass and cut the foam with a long knife, the depth of the shot glass.

Now my Carolina shot glass can be safely stored away to make sure no one drinks from it...

I don't think I can possibly stuff any other features into this box, so I think it's time to call it a wrap! I brand the inside lid of the box with my branding iron and give everything a final sanding down to 220 grit.

Step 14: Finishing

Don't listen to what anyone says, the real reason to build this entire project was simply to be able to see the grain and color of the wood after applying the Waterlox finish to the awesome pattern on the box.

The before/after is stunning as I had hoped for and it's only the first coat of tung oil. The top of the lid is a little tricky, but the plywood really pops with the finish and then I need to dab the lettering to get the finish applied. This also really helps for you to be able to see the pattern within the lettering.

After the first coat dries, I sand with really high ~600 grit sand paper to smooth down any dust that was caught in the finish and apply 4 more coats until I reach my desired level of shine and it's a wrap!

Step 15: Glamour Shots

Thanks for checking out the build and definitely check out the build video for the full experience!

Thirsty for more? You can also find me in other places on the interwebs!

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